Wyden, Merkley Demand FCC Act Now to Connect Students to Online Learning

Washington, DC – U.S. Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley today strongly urged the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to immediately use the E-Rate program to provide internet connectivity to students at home in Oregon and nationwide.

“The FCC has the power to help mitigate the impact of the coronavirus on our most vulnerable families,” Wyden and Merkley wrote FCC Chairman Ajit Pai in a letter along with 36 of their colleagues. “We now urge you in the strongest possible terms to utilize this authority to provide internet connectivity and devices for children in need.

“School bells across the country have started to ring, but without immediate action, many students are at risk of never making it to class,” the senators wrote.

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, students across the country are increasingly attending virtual classrooms. Yet, studies indicate that as many as 16 million children in the United States lack internet access at home and are unable to participate in online learning. These students are disproportionally from communities of color, low-income households, and rural areas.

The E-Rate Program is, and has been for more than two decades, an essential source of funding to connect the nation’s K-12 schools and libraries to the internet. The FCC has clear authority and available funding under the E-Rate program to provide connections at students’ homes — which, because schools have had to close their doors, have become de facto classrooms. However, the FCC has narrowly construed its ability to act during the current emergency, needlessly leaving millions of children at risk of falling behind in their studies.

In addition to Wyden and Merkley, others signing the letter were Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Senators Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.), Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Cory Booker (D.N.J.), Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Mark Udall (D-N.M.), Jack Reed (D-R.I.), Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.), Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Angus King (I-Maine), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), Gary Peters (D-Mich.), Tina Smith (D-Minn.), Bob Casey, Jr, (D-Penn.), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.), Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Pat Leahy (D-Vt.), and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.).

Every senator who signed today’s letter also co-sponsored the Emergency Educational Connections Act, legislation that would appropriate at least $4 billion to be delivered through the E-Rate program to equip students with internet connectivity and devices during the ongoing pandemic. These lawmakers are fighting to ensure that Congress enacts this legislation as part of the next coronavirus relief package. However, the FCC need not — and should not — wait for Congress to act.

A copy of the entire letter is here.